Every year around Oscar time, my old friend David Carr (rest in peace) used to call me up and we’d have a long conversation about the Oscar race. He always used to ask me what I thought about it and what I thought about movies. He would always say to me, “yeah, but is it a MOVIE movie?” What he meant by that was the good old fashioned big Hollywood movie the studios used to provide with regularity to adult people. Big budgets, big sets, glorious vistas, big stars. A night out at the picture show. This, as opposed to the little indies that came to dominate the Oscar race in the past 10-15 years or so where festival season has reigned supreme. Telluride gets a MOVIE movie now and again, as do Venice and Toronto, but for the most part, these are festivals built for independents.
Last year, it seemed pretty clear already that the industry was ready to embrace MOVIE movies again, with their decision to go against what the critics and online hive mind were urging them to do and choosing to award movies like Green Book, Bohemian Rhapsody, and A Star Is Born. All three of those are what Carr would call MOVIE movies.
The industry’s sentiment seemed to be driven by the move to add a “popular film category” at the Oscars, which was met with so much protest you’d think the Academy just hired Donald Trump to be the next host. That got scrapped and instead voters opted for the popular movies, even if it meant enduring a wee bit of ridicule (Bohemian Rhapsody) and controversy (Green Book). But I think there could be something else going on: a pendulum shift that might be the last gasp for movies to be movies again at the theater and not so much franchises or brands or sequels or remakes – original content aimed at adults maybe?
That was made abundantly clear when Quentin Tarantino rolled out Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. Had that movie come out in a different time (say, ten or fifteen years ago), it probably would not be treated as the second coming of Christ because it would have had more competition. But as it is, it’s one of the few movies to come out where serious actors aren’t dressed up as superheroes or doing motion capture or voicing an animated character (not that there’s anything wrong with that). No, Tarantino’s film dropped like a juicy T-bone steak on a desert island where the residents had been eating nothing but a lovely bunch of coconuts. A steak with big stars, real sets, actual actors, and an original story. And it was a story that didn’t necessarily reflect the utopian ideal of the modern left – the strident allegiance to not offending a single person. This movie broke some of those rules, though not enough to really make it verboten. I know my friend David Carr would have been first in line to see it, and all I would have to say to him was, it’s a MOVIE movie.
So let’s see how the year is shaping up. First thing to know is that nobody knows anything yet. We don’t know anything about anything. We are just guessing. The only two movies that have popped in any way would be Once Upon a Time in Hollywood and Rocketman, with a few titles hovering around the periphery, like The Farewell and Booksmart – the former being a more serious contender and the latter being one the critics will likely carry through the season.
Our good friend Tom O’Neil has just started taking Oscar predictions at GoldDerby, and though it might seem early, remember the season has been shortened significantly by almost a month, so it all has to start earlier.
Here are the ten films I put down for Best Picture, once again, knowing absolutely nothing – just going on random thoughts about random things, like the who, the what, the where of it:
Once Upon a Time in Hollywood (MOVIE movie)
The Irishman (MOVIE movie)
1917 (MOVIE movie)
Ford v Ferrari (MOVIE movie)
Little Women (MOVIE movie)
Untitled Todd Haynes
The Good Liar (MOVIE movie)
There are so many other potential titles, and we have no idea if any of these (save Tarantino’s movie) will go. It is a wide open race as we start the season.
Other titles that catch my eye right now:
What I’m sensing this far out is that we’ll have a pretty good mix of big movies and small movies, movies by women, movies by people of color, and a lot of variety to go around. But I also think that there will be another shift – a shift away from hive mind policing of entertainment which, at its peak, might have ended a film like Once Upon a Time in Hollywood but won’t now. Hollywood and films live in the realm of entertainment. The pendulum had to shift away from movies being only by and about white men and it did shift. There is a much wider array of filmmakers and films than ever before. That means there is less of a need to tear down movies and instead build them up. One hopes anyway.
In the past, we looked at smaller indie movies to dominate, but now I feel like there will be a bit of pendulum shift back to major Hollywood movies. So you might ask why I have The Irishman as a MOVIE movie since it’s in the hybrid zone of Netflix. Well, that’s because Netflix has transformed itself, almost overnight, into a big studio that produces big studio pictures, along with smaller indies and television.
Telluride begins the season, right around the same time as Venice, three weeks hence.